Storm of 1915 Altered Dundas Topography As Well As History
by Stan Nowak
This article was first published in the August 13, 2003 edition of the Dundas Star News. Reproduced with permission of the author.
The Town Dam strained against the incredible stress of the water in the basin, which was overflowing from the torrential downpour of the day before. Finally, the southern abutment of the dam gave way, and the headwaters broke free and sped at a furious rate down Spencer Creek.
The dam had failed again. It had supplied power for the various mills located along Spencer Creek for 116 years. But, after that storm of August 3, 1915, after countless repairs following countless storms, the dam had failed for the last time. The dam was first built in 1799, or perhaps earlier, across Spencer Creek just west of today’s MacMurray Street, and was purchased and enlarged by Richard Hatt in 1804 for his Dundas Mills.
After Hatt’s death in 1819, the dam was utilized by James Bell Ewart, fortified again, and became known as Ewart’s Dam until his death in 1853.
In its heyday in the mid-1800s, it produced up to 200 hp a day for six to nine months of any given year. From 1853 to 1857, the dam was exploited by the various mill owners.
It got into a bad state of repair, however, and it became “the general opinion that the free flow of water made it impossible to keep bridge abutments on the stream, and there was quite an agitation for the town to take over the dam” (Dundas Star, August 5, 1915).
After yet another washout, the Town took over the dam in 1897. It became a white elephant for Dundas, costing a lot more than it was earning. From 1897 to 1915, the town spent $11,207.20 on maintaining the dam, while it earned roughly just over $300 per year, or $5,400 for the same time period.
With electricity becoming available at cheap rates, the dam fell into disuse. The Town, constantly debating what to do with the dam, had its problem solved when Mother Nature wiped it out for good, and it was never rebuilt.
The basin contained by the dam, though not an official recreation area had provided Dundas residents with swimming in the summer, and ice-skating in the winter. It was in this basin that curling was first introduced in Dundas. Dundas Resident Elwood Hughes learned how to skate on the frozen basin and became a Canadian ice-skating champion and record holder around 1915–1920.
Soon after the final collapse of the dam, the demise of the basin followed, and Dundas’ topography was altered forever. Today, the basin is filled in and the site is occupied by the Grightmire Arena, the Garstin Centre for the Arts, the Dundas Community Pool, and the parking lot that services them all. The Spencer Creek still flows by, just as it has for centuries.
There are, however, no remnants of what was once the mightiest dam on Spencer Creek.
by Stan Nowak with special thanks to Clare Crozier
This article was first published January 9th, 2004 in the Dundas Star News. Reproduced with permission of the author.
Since this article was written in 2004, the Post Office has been sold, rejuvenated, tenanted and the clocks have, once again, been made operational!
As I write this, I look out my window and see the peak of the old Post Office clock tower one block away. The clock dial that faces me is clearly visible in the late afternoon sun. I decide to go for a walk and take a closer look at it. As I approach the tower, I can appreciate the impressive architecture of the building as well as the tower.
The clock sits 100 feet above King Street in the tower of the old Dundas Post Office on 104 King Street West. It has been here for 90 years. The time reads 4:05—at least the side facing King Street does. The other three sides read different times ranging from 3:35 to 4:10. It is obvious that the old clock is not working.
In 1909, the federal government purchased the property, formerly the ‘Campbell Block’, and built the Post Office, which also housed the Customs Office. The official opening was on October 30, 1913. The new building was a Romanesque facade, which was dominated by the Venetian clock tower.
The clock was manufactured by J. Smith and Sons, Midland Clock Works of Derby, England. The bell that tolled each hour was built by John Taylor of Loughborough, England. It struck on the hour, 24 times per day by a hammer which was powered by a counterweight.
Each clock face is six feet in diameter. The hour hand is two feet, six inches in length, and the minute hand is three feet, six inches. It had a pendulum which swung on a wooden handle connected to the clock by a strip of spring steel 25/1000 of an inch thick. During the period when the clock was working, the caretaker of the Post Office wound the clock manually once every six days. He lived in an apartment on the third floor of the Post Office.
The clock ceased to keep time properly, and was restored after a decade of silence in 1979 when the Post Office was completely rebuilt. This clock was wound once a month and struck on the hour. Sometime after 1980, the clock stopped working. Exactly when and why, I’m not sure. If any reader out there can enlighten me, please let me know at email@example.com., or through the Dundas Star News.
Today, the clock is still, the pendulum swings no more, and the bell no longer tolls. The building itself is a ghostly trace of its former self. But the noble Venetian tower, even with the still-life clock, is still a majestic feature in the streetscape of downtown Dundas today.